|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Mr. Clarke: I confirm that the hon. Gentleman is broadly correct in his summary of the state of affairs surrounding amendment No. 220. He has not been misleading and he has described the situation accurately. The Bill will provide the power for the retention of all fingerprints and samples, including those that come from suspects who are acquitted. It is illogical to destroy the prints of cautioned suspects, who have admitted that they are guilty of the offence with which they have been charged.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider his position. It is important to have a consistent approach to records of fingerprints and DNA, and such records are an important tool in the fight against crime. I understand that some people have civil liberties concerns, and he is entitled to raise those. However, the proposals will give the police an effective crime-fighting tool, which is as important for the liberties of citizens throughout the country as the concerns that he expressed.
Mr. Hughes: I am grateful for the Minister's confirmation. If he had said that the fingerprints would be kept, but that they would disappear from the record as soon as a person's criminal record disappeared, that would be a different matter. However, he has confirmed that that is not the case. That is inconsistent with the original intention.
The measure is about the police building up more information. Of course, they will always be helped by having more fingerprints and DNA samples on record, and by increased powers to arrest and detain suspects, but that is not a valid argument. We should not have a society that helps the police just so that more people can be arrested and convicted more easily. There must be a balance.
Jackie Ballard (Taunton): Does my hon. Friend agree that the logical conclusion of the Minister's approach would be for everyone to have DNA samples and fingerprints taken at birth? That would provide a smart card record throughout life.
Mr. Hughes: That is exactly the case. My hon. Friend and I will challenge the assumption that lies behind the Government's approach when we reach the later clauses on DNA.
Mr. Clarke: That is not a logical conclusion, because contact with the criminal justice system and the police is established in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The comments of the hon. Member for Taunton raise issues about the desirability, or otherwise, of a national database, but I do not think that there is a logical connection in the way that she suggested.
Mr. Hughes: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton rather than with the Minister. We will have a situation in which people may lawfully have samples taken from them, and even if they are later acquitted, those samples will be kept on record without consent. They will have had contact with the police, but the system will not have found them guilty. My hon. Friend and I, other Opposition Members and, I hope, Labour Back Benchers think that it would be unacceptable to keep samples, fingerprints or other body prints from someone who had unjustifiably attracted the attention of the police, was repeatedly subject to unfair arrestmany young people complain of thatand was eventually charged but acquitted.
All that such people have done is to have contact with the criminal justice system. I have had such contact, as I expect has the Minister. I have been stopped by the police; I do not know whether he has. It would be an unacceptable consequence for that contact to put one on ``the list''. If people who have never had a criminal conviction will be in the same league as others about whom information is held, the logic is that we might as well all be there. We must have that debate, and my hon. Friends and I will strongly resist the idea, as would, I hope, many people on both sides of the House. I am not sure that the public are ready for it.
I should be grateful if we could vote on amendments Nos. 219 and 220. However, I do not want to press amendment No. 218, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: No. 219, in page 63, line 42, leave out subsection (2).[Mr. Gray.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.
Division No. 32]
Amendment proposed: No. 220, in page 64, line 29, leave out subsection (6).[Mr. Simon Hughes.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.
Division No. 33]
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Heald: May I ask a question about the Human Rights Act 1998? It relates to the provisions for the compulsory fingerprinting of individuals. If people have been found guilty of a criminal offence, I can see no difficulty in their being compulsorily fingerprinted as part of their penalty, subject to the authorisation of a senior police officer. Similarly, a caution, warning or reprimand would probably count as a disposal in a criminal case. However, a fixed penalty notice is slightly different because it is a civil procedure.
Have fixed penalty notices not been included because of Human Rights Act considerations? Given that people admit guilt at the cautioning level, the warning level or the conviction levelthey are either admitting guilt or being found guiltyI am worried that paying a fixed penalty notice will have the same effect, and that people will think that they are admitting that they have committed an offence and are paying a penalty in lieu of prosecution and conviction. I may be wrong, and I would be interested to hear the Minister's response.
In some cases, but not all, it is extremely helpful to have fingerprints. It is not necessary for someone who is drunk on the highway, but it is for criminal damage. I agree with the Minister that fixed penalties will not be issued for the more serious cases of criminal damage. However, in our small market towns and in the cities of Britain, groups of youngsters often commit acts of yobbery and vandalism. All too often it can escalate from kicking lamp-posts to seriously damaging motor cars or committing serious offences of criminal damage.
I wonder whether there is not a logical inconsistency. There are three tiers of seriousness: if I am right, warning is at the bottom, caution is next, and the fixed penalty notice follows that. It is rather surprising that those on the third tier should not have their fingerprints taken, particularly as no criminal record will be kept. They will not be recorded as having committed an offence, but I do not see why we should not keep their fingerprints.
There may be some overlap between arrangements for keeping criminal records and for keeping fingerprints, but I thought that section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1948 is being repealed because that administrative link no longer exists. If we have a separate database for fingerprints, and if there is no obvious interaction with criminal records other than the one that I mentionedthe fact that, under the Human Rights Act, the one follows the otherwhy should we not consider bringing fixed penalty notices into the system? I want to tease out of the Minister whether that would be a problem.
The other aspect is whether PACE gives the police the discretion to take fingerprints from those receiving fixed penalty notices at the police station if there is a worry that the offenders may be part of a group that has committed many offences in the area.
Mr. Clarke: On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I believe that there is no discretion; but I am asking for further advice in order to give a more authoritative answer. On his third point, the short answer is no: Human Rights Act considerations did not lead to fixed penalty notices not being included. As I said earlier, identity and suspicion of involvement will not be an issue when fixed penalty notices are issued. Fixed penalty notices are not a conviction, so the police have no power to take fingerprints.
I shall say a little more on the hierarchy point that the hon. Gentleman has been making. The fixed penalty notice is a less serious disposal of cases than a caution, reprimand or warningthe latter three can be given only if guilt is admitted. As we heard during our debates on part I, people who accept a fixed penalty notice are not necessarily admitting guilt, so it is lower in the hierarchy than the other three options. However, I acknowledge that it might not seem like that to the person in receipt of a fixed penalty notice. I think that I have correctly described the position in our legal hierarchy.
Mr. Heald: I do not want to return to the question of fixed penalty notices in detail, but how does what the Minister has said sit with the maximum penalties that he has proposed for those? Surely a possible fine, in effect, of £2,500 for one of the offences in question is more serious than a caution, which involves no penalty at all but is simply a matter of being told not to do it again.
Mr. Clarke: I cannot recall whether I have yet written to the hon. Gentleman and to the Committee on this matter, but as I suggested previously, when we discussed what order of penalty might be involved, we intend on Report to table an amendment with a view to reducing the relevant proportion from a half to a quarter. That is another example of the way in which the Committee's rounded and lengthy consideration of the Bill has led to changes. That is the classic way in which Parliament should operate and the result is to the hon. Gentleman's credit. We have considered the issue, as we said we would. However, the order of penalty that we are considering in this context is not dramatically different from what I was alluding to previously.
I urge the Committee to agree that the clause stand part of the Bill.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 8 March 2001|